Posted on October 12, 2015
I need money for my life. Most of us do, in the absence of a fully functioning bartering system which, though I would love it, is someone else’s vocation. My family and I generally get by financially. We work, and I get paid for my regular job with Praxis. Also, the government chips in with family payments. My extended family is often generous and I do some casual teaching when it’s needed.
Most of you, dear readers, also need money. You get this somehow. However, I would bargain that most of you don’t need to justify your work theologically to get it. You do the work, or apply for the required amount of jobs, and the money goes into your bank account and quickly out again.
Later in this post I am going to ask you for money. This post is my tortuous explanation. If being asked for money is OK with you, read this to find out why I am asking you. If it offends you…well, maybe you should still read it.
What is ‘raising support’?
I started theologising for my supper when I worked for YFC Australia as a youth research officer. I had to ‘raise support’, which meant asking friends, family and other people to donate money to cover my wage. This filled me with apprehension. Though I had worked for a church before, where my wage was donated by church members, I never had to ask for the money directly. This was different.
I wrote a letter which explained my role with YFC and asked directly for cold hard cash. It wasn’t easy. I also made phone calls to people I knew, asking them for money. This was even harder. These days I am more comfortable about asking people for money, but not much more.
These days, about half of my wage is still covered by individuals who give both large and small amounts. This money creates time. Time for me to do Christian community work in Long Gully. And after all this time, these supporters still think what Kylie and I do in Long Gully is worthwhile enough to support financially. This experience is humbling, and I often doubt that what I’m doing is worth their support, but they don’t (and for a picture of what Kylie and I do in Long Gully, you can sign up for my newsletter).
Tent-making as an alternative
There’s a long tradition in Christianity, and probably in all religions, of giving money to cover the costs of causes we believe in, and paying people to do this. To put it in common parlance, it’s a voluntary and personal version of the tax system, which is compulsory and impersonal. Some Christians traditions make such donations mandatory, using a ‘theology of the tithe’ to justify this. I’m not a fan of making it mandatory, but I am a fan of giving a portion of your income to causes that need it. I can hear you saying “He would say that wouldn’t he?!”, and it’s true I have a vested interest. So let me bash you with a (little) Bible.
The apostle Paul, had something to say about this. He funded his work through making tents, which became the shorthand for doing paying work to fund other stuff you think is important but which doesn’t pay easily (‘tent-making’). That he didn’t ask people for donations was a source of pride, and there a is convincing argument that Paul valued his tent-making on the same level as his apostolic work. Yet he also didn’t begrudge others getting paid for their apostolic work, even though he did not choose this path himself. See 1 Corinthians 9 for his lengthiest treatment of this topic.
What is ‘Christian work’?
So, while I am theologically OK with the idea of people giving money to cover my wage, I think it has a major danger. That is: when we donate money to ‘Christian work’ we create a class of people who are ‘Christian workers’.
These are usually pastors, thinkers, missionaries of various kinds, community workers, theologians, and stuff that generally doesn’t fit the priorities of our society and so doesn’t receive funding from the state. I believe in the necessity of this work (again, I would say that wouldn’t I?!), but their work is not more important or more urgent than any other Christian’s work, whether that be paid or unpaid.
In effect, all work done by Christians is ‘Christian work’. Of course, we can critique that work and ask Is this work like Jesus? but that can and should be applied to any Christian’s work. It should be applied as much to a pastor’s parenting as to his work of teaching the Bible.
I resolve this dilemma by ignoring it mainly. But when I look squarely at it, I live with it by making sure that I encourage Christians (and anyone really) in their work when I see that it reflects the life of Jesus. Their work is as significant as mine.
As well as people who give us money, there are a bunch of people who wholeheartedly support us through praying for us, telling others good stuff about what we do and checking in on us – this kind of support gives me courage that money can’t buy…so I try to keep that in my mind.
Give me money anyhow
Given how conflicted I am about this, you’d be surprised that anyone gives me money at all. And that is actually a problem for me right now. I’m not that good at ‘raising support’! I’m in the position of needing to look for other paying work (‘tent-making’) in order to create time for what I do in Long Gully, which will obviously decrease the time I have for things in Long Gully.
It took me a while to write those last two paragraphs. Hopefully this blog post explains why.